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In Her Own Words

Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. The Nation needs your gifts. 

Lorraine Hansberry speech, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” given to Readers Digest/United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, NYC, May 1, 1964. 

I was born on the Southside of Chicago. I was born black and a female. I was born in a depression after one world war and came into adolescence during another. While I was still in my teens, the first atom bombs were dropped on human beings and by the time I was twenty-three years old my government and that of the Soviet Union had entered actively into the worst conflict of nerves in history—the Cold War.

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Towards a New Romanticism,” speech given at the American Society of African Culture, First Conference of Negro Writers, March 1, 1959. The Black Scholar Vol. 12, No. 2 (March/April 1981), pp. 2–12.

Despair? Did someone say despair was a question in the world? Well then, listen to the sons of those who have known little else if you wish to know the resiliency of this thing you would so quickly resign to mythhood, this thing called the human spirit. 

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism,” The Black Scholar Volume 12 (March/April 1981), p.7

I sit at this desk for hours and hours and sharpen pencils and smoke cigarettes and switch from play to play—Sidney, Touissant, Les Blancs and—nothing happens. I begin to think more and more of doing something else with my life while I am still young. I mean, almost anything—driving an ambulance in Angola or running a ski lodge in upstate New York, instead of this endless struggle. I expect the theatre will kill me.

Lorraine Hansberry, Journal entry, September 16, 1964.

I have suspected for a good time that the homosexual in America would ultimately pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment of women. Men continue to mis-interpret the second-rate status of women as implying a privileged status for themselves; heterosexuals think the same way about homosexuals; gentiles about Jews; whites about blacks; haves about have-nots.

Lorraine Hansberry, 1961 unpublished essay titled, “On Homophobia, The Intellectual Impoverishment of Women and a Homosexual ‘Bill of Rights.'"

And as of today, if I am asked abroad if I am a free citizen of the United States of America, I must only say what is true:  No. 

Lorraine Hansberry. “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Towards a New Position.” Originally printed as “A Destiny is in the Stars” in Crisis, 1969 and reprinted in The Black Scholar, Vol. 12 No. 2. (March/April 1981): 2–12. 

If by some miracle women should not ever utter a single protest against their condition there would still exist among men those who could not endure in peace until her liberation had been achieved. 

Lorraine Hansberry, unpublished essay. As cited in Stephen Carter, Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. 

We’ve been trying very hard. . .in America to pretend that this greatest conflict didn’t even have at its base the only thing it had at its base. . . Person after person will write a book today and insist that slavery was not the issue. 

Lorraine Hansberry. “…Integration into a Burning House.” From a radio symposium on “The Negro Writer in America” on January 1, 1961; two excerpts from a Civil War Centennial program that included James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nat Hentoff, Alfred Kazin, and Emile Capouya. 4:49. Lorraine Hansberry Speaks Out: Art and the Black Revolution. Harper Audio/Caedmon: Abridged edition (April 2009).

I believe that one of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create something universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific. 

Lorraine Hansberry radio interview with Studs Terkel, broadcast on WFMT Radio, Chicago, Illinois, May 12, 1959, “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry.” American Theater (November 1984): 6 

…All art is ultimately social; that which agitates and that which prepares the mind for slumber. The writer is deceived who thinks that he has some other choice.  The question is not whether one will make a social statement in one’s work—but only what the statement will say, for if it says anything at all, it will be social.

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism” The Black Scholar, Volume 12, Number 1, March/April 1981, p.5. Originally presented to The American Society of African Culture on March 1, 1959.